Us by Richard Mason

The force of nature that screws up lives
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The Independent Culture

Only two books in my life have made me cry. The first, A Begonia for Miss Applebaum by Paul Zindel, was read when I was a young teen, so was probably a bit hormonal anyway; but the second is Us, Richard Mason's devastatingly tragic, funny and utterly gripping second novel.

Only two books in my life have made me cry. The first, A Begonia for Miss Applebaum by Paul Zindel, was read when I was a young teen, so was probably a bit hormonal anyway; but the second is Us, Richard Mason's devastatingly tragic, funny and utterly gripping second novel.

The book, essentially, is all about Maggie: Julian's sister, Jake's girlfriend, and Adrienne's best friend. It's a powerful story of how one person can screw up the lives of everyone around them without ever meaning to. You gather early on that the trio each lead outwardly happy, but actually pitifully miserable lives following Maggie's death. Mason then switches the story to the group's time at Oxford years before, gradually revealing how Maggie's control over them all results in her eventual demise.

Each chapter is narrated by a different character (sometimes two or three), and as the same event is often addressed by more than one person you have that tremendous sense of tragic misunderstandings and misread emotional signals. Maggie, however, never plays narrator. She is such a force of nature that Mason merely gives you others' interpretations of her actions, which provides a fascinating insight into the spell she casts over people and the role she plays in their lives, be it lover, bully or hero.

I strongly recommend Us. The characters are pitiful creatures at times, resigning themselves to unhappy and arguably martyrish lives, but it's the strength of Mason's characterisation that keeps you gripped to their pain.

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